5 months ago

Media Theorised: reading against the grain

Now more than ever, we cannot take news media at face value.

Now more than ever, we cannot take news media at face value – we need tools to read media critically, strategies to discern how information works. This is what inspired Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post’s project: Media Theorised.

These are writers who have taught us how to ‘read against the grain’ – Roland Barthes

Al Jazeera has taken key works of five thinkers from around the world – theorists located in the space between the cosmopolitan centre and the ‘global south’. Roland Barthes, French philosopher; Noam Chomsky, American linguist and political activist; Stuart Hall, Jamaican-British cultural historian; Marshall McLuhan, Canadian academic; Edward Said, Palestinian-American literary historian.

As Roland Barthes would have put it: these are writers who have taught us how to ‘read against the grain’. Working with journalists, artists and political activists from Africa, Latin America, Asia, the United States and Europe, we have created five videos supplemented by essays to introduce you to these media theorists and to help you apply some of their critical tools in your everyday encounters with the media.

Roland Barthes – FRENCH PHILOSOPHER – Mediated Mythologies: The Semiotics of News

The work of Roland Barthes (1915-1980) is difficult, slippery, whimsical – it calls on us to read the world around us as a series of texts – there to be interpreted, demystified, contested. Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff narrates this video. Latuff is known for his biting satirical cartoons that provide political commentary on world affairs.

Read Lina Attalah’s article on how Roland Barthes influenced her work and how she reads the signs under Egypt’s President Sisi. Attalah is co-founder of ‘Mada Masr’, a Cairo-based news media site.

French philosopher Roland Barthes would have seen the TV screen as a cultural text – there to be read, interpreted, decoded.

Narrated by Carlos Latuff, Brazilian political cartoonist Directed and animated by Nina Gantz & Simon Cartwrigh

Noam Chomsky – US LINGUIST & POLITICAL ACTIVIST – The Consent Factory: The Mass Media Machine

For decades, Noam Chomsky has been the agent provocateur when it comes to critiquing the US mainstream media. He co-authored ‘Manufacturing Consent’, a seminal work on mainstream journalism and its role in the mechanics of power. It stands to reason that Amy Goodman should narrate this piece: she is the founder Democracy Now!, a US news broadcast which has provided viewers with an alternative kind of journalism, available on the internet and 1,400 radio and television stations worldwide

Read Kashmiri journalist Uzma Falak’s chronicle on how consent is manufactured by much of India’s mass media on the disputed region of Kashmir.

According to American linguist and political activist, Noam Chomsky, media operate through 5 filters: ownership, advertising, the media elite, flak and the common enemy.

Narrated by Amy Goodman, Executive Producer of Democracy Now! Designed and animated by Pierangelo Pirak

Stuart Hall – JAMAICAN-BRITISH CULTURAL HISTORIAN – Race, Gender, Class: The Politics of News

Known as the ‘Godfather of Multiculturalism’, Stuart Hall (1932-2014) gave us tools to understand how representation is always imbued with ideology – and how to resist. We approached Natalie Jeffers to narrate this video because of the inspiration she has taken from Hall’s work, especially in her current role as co-founder of Black Lives Matter UK.

Read At a time of rising right-wing nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment and Islamophobia, read Arun Kundnani’s article on the relevance of Stuart Hall’s work on power and representation.

Jamaican-British cultural historian Stuart Hall gives us the tools to understand how representation is always imbued with ideology – and how to subvert it.

Narrated by Natalie Jeffers, co-founder Black Lives Matter UK Designed and animated by Ilze Juhnevica & Zahra Warsame

Marshall McLuhan – CANADIAN LITERARY SCHOLAR – Digital Prophecies: The Medium is the Message 

Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) was a Canadian academic whose work on electronic media in the 60s has come to resonate in the digital age. This video is narrated by Alex Chow, one of the leaders of the 2014 Hong Kong Umbrella movement whose mass street occupation was mobilised and reported via social media.

In the 1960s, way before anybody had ever tweeted, Facebook Live-d or sent classified information to WikiLeaks, one man made a series of pronouncements about the changing media landscape. His name was Marshall McLuhan and you’ve probably heard his most quoted line: “The medium is the message”

Narrated by Alex Chow, student leader 2014 Hong Kong Umbrella movement Directed and animated by Daniel Savage

Edward Said Framed – PALESTINIAN-AMERICAN LITERARY HISTORIAN – The Politics of Stereotypes in News 

Palestinian academic Edward Said’s (1935-2003) book ‘Orientalism’ showed how the West had the power to represent the colonial ‘other’ – while at once leaving them voiceless. Sorious Samura who has narrated this video, produces journalism that does precisely what Orientalist narratives do not: in documentaries like ‘Cry Freedom’ and ‘Exodus from Africa’, he has covered Africa from the inside, representing African voices and African perspectives.

Read our conversation with Argentinian journalist Natalia Vinelli about how Edward Said’s work is just as relevant in Latin America as it is in the Middle East. Vinelli is the founder of Barricada TV – a cooperative TV channel and is author of ‘Television from below: History, Difference and the Journalism of Counter-information.’

Palestinian-American literary historian Edward Said showed how the West had the power to represent the colonial ‘other’ – while simultaneously leaving them silent.

Narrated by Sorious Samura, Sierra Leonean investigative journalist Designed and animated by Ermina Takenova

Follow MediaTheorised, an online project by Al Jazeera English’s media analysis show The Listening Post Facebook, Twitter.

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